COVID-19 vaccination rates have been lagging for young children.

COVID-19 vaccination rates have been lagging for young children. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Pfizer's request to expand use of its updated COVID-19 booster for children 5 to 11 comes as Long Island health experts say they are seeing more new cases in that age group, raising concerns about a potential fall spike in school infections.

Meanwhile, in New York State, 38.7% of children between 5 and 11 have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series, meaning they got the initial shots. Just 4.6% statewide have gotten at least one booster shot. The group is the least vaccinated statewide other than children under 5, according to New York health department data.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech on Monday asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to increase the population eligible nationwide for their latest COVID-19 vaccine. 

If the FDA agrees to the request to make 5- to 11-year-olds eligible for the new booster, they would start getting a children-sized dose of the omicron-targeted formula.

What to know

  • Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have asked the FDA to expand use of their updated COVID-19 booster for children from the ages of 5 to 11.
  • Long Island health experts say they are seeing more new cases in that age group.
  • In New York State, 38.7% of children between 5 and 11 have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series, meaning they got the initial shots.

Late last week, drugmaker Moderna said that it had submitted an emergency use request to the FDA for its version of omicron-targeting boosters for children ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 17.

On Long Island, infectious disease and public health experts said Monday they have seen an uptick in overall COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, and they worry it could be partly due to an increased spread in schools as the academic year gets underway.

There is no current definitive data about COVID-19 cases in schools because schools and the state no longer issue a regular “report card" tracking cases, as they had previously.

Public health experts note that many new COVID-19 cases are not being reported to schools or the state because many people are home testing.

Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief, a pediatrician in Huntington, said she has seen increasing cases of COVID-19.

“We have definitely seen an uptick in cases in children of all ages since the start of school,” she said. “After several weeks over the summer of not seeing any cases, we are now seeing them almost daily.”

Krief said the trend was not surprising and “it parallels what we saw with the start of school last year.” Community transmission rates are currently at the same level or higher than last year, she said, but this year there are no COVID-19 safeguards in place and there is a much lower vaccination rate in school-aged children compared to adults.

Sean Clouston, an associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, said he sees a similar trend.

“While we were seeing a decline in the late part of the summer” after a summer wave of cases, “we have reversed that” in the last few weeks, he said. “My assessment just of timing is that it probably has something to do with schools but there is no smoking gun.”

Dr. Mundeep Kainth, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, pointed out that "there is still circulation" of the virus.

"There are still fatalities from COVID," she added. "It's still here. It's not gone anywhere. It hasn't disappeared. We're still in an endemic phase of COVID."

Clouston said he hopes easy mitigation tools like opening windows in schools are still being used.

“I think people have decided COVID isn’t a thing anymore and so all of the mitigation strategies we were using, it’s not clear to me they are being reliably” implemented, he said.

Public schools were closed Monday for the Rosh Hashanah holiday and could not be reached for comment, but some private schools said they were not seeing a major rise in case.

Brother Thomas Cleary, president of Chaminade High School in Mineola, said the all-boys Catholic school has not seen a major spike.

“It finally feels like a completely normal school year,” he said.

St. Anthony’s High School has had a “handful” of students and staff missing school because of COVID-19, but “nothing notable,” said Assistant Principal Christina Buehler. “Things are going well so far.”

With AP

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